Two weeks ago when Anna came to visit us she brought her copy of G.K. Chesterton's Four Faultless Felons, a short book that I proceeded to borrow and read over about a week-long period. It was my first Chesterton book, and while I am not sure I agree with everything in the four short stories, the major point that he was driving home made me think. Each of the characters had done something or appeared to do something that in the eyes of those around them was illegal, earning themselves the titles "felons." Yet their actions were in fact not felony at all; each man was faultless when his motives and real actions were taken into account.
One of the points of Four Faultless Felons is that genuinely good actions are so confounding to the world that if they were practiced more often, they would be mistaken for felony. How can evil understand Good? How can darkness understand Light? Can the things of the flesh understand the things of the Spirit? Another point is that we ought not do good in order to be seen as Good People by those around us, and that when the world starts calling us Good, we should stop and examine ourselves very closely. The people did not call Jesus "good," and when one man did, Jesus turned it back in his face with the reply, "Why do you call me good? There is none good but God alone." It isn't about appearing to be good; it is about being holy.
Yesterday I was working on my author website, getting it set up to launch, which involves doing summaries for my novels and all that good stuff. I had done The Soldier's Cross and Wordcrafter and was working on The White Sail's Shaking, mulling over some of the themes that have come to play in it - friendship, courage, mercy, and true honor. Only, I hadn't really thought about the last one very much. Tip is driven by a need to prove himself, to show his family that he is something more than mediocre and to show his fellow officers that, unlike his relations, he is not a Loyalist. I already knew that that would be a point of the story; I knew subconsciously that Tip was facing a decision - whether to seek honor or to do right - but until yesterday I hadn't come to the foundation of the choice.
It isn't about whether to choose honor or righteousness; the question boils down to what honor is. Honor is doing right, or at least it ought to be, and as Chesterton points out, it often comes out looking very dishonorable to everyone else. Tip is hunting glory, not honor, and though the two words are used synonymously, in this fallen world they are very often opposites. What is our conception of glory but greatness? And what, after all, do we really know of greatness? When we say a man has won glory, we mean he has won the people over into considering him great, which is not at all the same as the man really being great. Again, Chesterton's point is a good one: if true greatness were seen among fallen man, it would be considered base. When a great Man did come, what did the world do but ridicule Him and mock Him and put Him to death?
And so it is that when real honor is seen, it is usually misunderstood. To seek real honor is to seek something very low in the eyes of the world, and it is a great deal harder than winning glory. Any scum of a man can set himself up as something great, but it takes a different kind of man to be a faultless felon.